08/21/2014, 00.00
IRAQ - SYRIA - UNITED STATES
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James Foley, a journalist who had to make "sense" of war

Born into a Catholic family, he came late to journalism after a career teaching inner-city kids. He was drawn to reporting in war-torn countries because of his brother, a member of the US Air Force, and felt he had to be there to understand the big issues. During his captivity in Libya in 2011, he prayed and recited the rosary.

Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Friends and colleagues describe James Foley as a thinker, a cerebral sort of journalist who tried to make sense of the big issues and had to be there. For this reason, he was killed and decapitated by a militant with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Posted online yesterday, the video of his execution became front-page news.

The hunt for the man who murdered the American journalist in cold blood is now on. Given his accent, he is probably from London, presumed to have travelled to Syria some time during the last three years and is now one of a small handful of Britons tasked with guarding Islamic State's Western captives.

Recently, a US secret military mission had tried but failed to free Foley and other American hostages in Syria, US officials have said.

Meanwhile, a portrait of this reporter, who was in Iraq, Libya and Syria in the last five years, is slowly emerging.

Born into a Catholic family in New Hampshire, the eldest of five children, Foley, 40, was a latecomer to journalism.

After graduating from Marquette University in 1996 with a major in history, he taught inner-city students through the Teach for America programme in Phoenix and later instructed inmates at the Cook County Sheriff's boot camp in Chicago.

Then, in his mid-30s and still single, he decided to change careers. Conflict-reporting courses he took in at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism captivated him. But he was also drawn to reporting in war-torn countries because of his brother, who served in the military in Iraq in 2007. He recalled feeling frustrated and disconnected while watching conflicts from afar.

After graduation, Foley went to Iraq as a reporter embedded with the Indiana National Guard, and then went to work as a freelance journalist, reporting in conflict zones for several outlets, including Boston-based GlobalPost.

In 2011, he was in Libya to cover the civil war. There he was seized with other reporters, including Clare Morgana Gillis, and held hostage for 44 days. A journalist who was working alongside him, a seasoned South African photographer named Anton Hammerl, was killed in gunfire.

"When you see something really violent, it does a strange thing to you," Foley said during an appearance shortly after his release from captivity in Libya, at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. "It doesn't always repel you. Sometimes, as you know, it draws you close. . . . It's a strange sort of force."

Six months later, he boarded a plane again, and was again in the North African nation to document Moammar Gaddafi's fall. After that, he travelled to Syria where he met his death.

However, for family and friends, Foley's dedication to his work was the result of his faith. "Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energising to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone," Foley wrote in the Marquette alumni magazine.

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